Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Foreign Affairs

Mohamed Bouazizi

One year ago today, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in the middle of the street outside of a Tunisian governor's office, igniting the Tunisian Revolution and the greater Arab Spring protests across the Middle East. For years the young fruit and vegetable salesman had been mistreated and abused by local police, and they were beginning to extort money from him and make his business impossible to run. After a local municipal official humiliated Bouazizi by publicly beating him and taking his electronic weighing scales away, he ran to the governor's office to complain and have his scales returned. When the governor refused to see him, Bouazizi bought a can of gasoline, stood outside of the governor's office, and lit himself ablaze with a match. His last words, shouted angrily at the symbol of the Tunisian government before him, were "How do you expect me to make a living?"

At the time, no one in these autocratic regimes nor in the West knew that one young man's self-immolation in a small town in Tunisia would so radically alter the geopolitics of our world and upend governments that had been in power for decades. After a few weeks in a coma in intensive care, Bouazizi died on New Years Eve. Two weeks after that, Tunisian President Ben Ali fled his country and ended his 23-year rule. Other dictators from Mubarak to Gaddafi would fall, and still others like Syria's Assad are fighting for their existence. The so-called Arab Spring is now a year old, and the fire is still raging and worthy of our intense attention. Fire, as we are learning, can be both a handy servant and a dangerous master. We must continue to hope that this Arab Spring improves the condition of man in the Middle East, but we must prepare for the alternative scenario that we are entering into a new, dangerous, and perplexing period of time in that ever-smoldering corner of the world.
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Discussions - 1 Comment

"Fire, as we are learning, can be both a handy servant and a dangerous master."

That seems to be common sense, not something we are capable of learning, as if we might forget it. (unlike say section 68 of the IRC) (itemized deductions?...goes and checks.. yep!)

There are facts that must be learned, which will undoubtably be forgotten, but which we have a means of re-learning or looking up.

It also isn't clear that self-immolation led to the arab spring. Why not high commodity prices, as Kudlow claimed on CNBC?

Also setting yourself on fire is hardly a rational reaction. In america the court system requires that the petitioner both have standing and that justiciability exists. That is the court has to be able to provide an adequate resolution to the dispute.

If you are willing to set yourself on fire over some scales the judicial system, and the promise of liberal democracy has nothing for you.

You are going to wrong yourself because you have been wronged?

This is quite insane. One might be excused in thinking that the revolutionaries went wrong simply by not pondering justiciability. The degree of energy necessary for revolution often times invests itself with a belief that government can provide a remedy.

But a bigger question is perhaps: What is the justiciability of liberal democracy?

What is the real justicibility of electing Romney, or Newt instead of Obama?

For progressives, what is the real justicibility of electing Obama? Has he closed gitmo? Has he brought world peace? enlightenment?

There is I should think much less possible justicibility than the promoters of a partcular view on good government would have you believe.

In addition it is a strange hope, and an odd sense of justicibility that would prefer a specific turn of events in the business of others.

These are after all a people who "pray", if Allah is listening is it not appropriate that they receive the relief they seek from him?

I happen to believe that liberal democracy will take on the character of its prayers for relief.

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